SEO Secret Sauce: The Prolific Writer

Content May 23, 2006

Not long ago, I was a prolific writer—when I was not expected to be. Now that I HAVE to be a prolific writer, I find it more difficult. First, with Prophet 21, before it was acquired by Activant, I delved into SEO and was one of the most active posters on the then-dominant Search Engine Forums (SEF). It has since been replaced by Webmaster World for the geeked-out in-the-know SEO crowd. Everything was new then, I wasn’t in the SEO business, and I felt compelled to share—in part out of altruism, but also out of ego, and to stick it to the SEO secret-holders. Anyone holding his cards too close to his/her chest is a bullshitter, I felt. So, I said it like it was, and was one of the first people to lay out precisely why keyworded previous/next arrows were disproportionately effective in SEO—they pander to Google’s PageRank algorithm WITHIN the site. Since, and perhaps consequently, both MovableType and WordPress have instituted keyworded prev/next arrows.

Next, I decided that if I was such hot shit at SEO, I would put my money where my mouth was and go for a slice of the pie. Instead of affiliate programs, I opted for a straight cut of worldwide gross revenues of a technology company in an emerging market—digital signage. I hitched my wagon to the Scala star, and rode it for about four years. I ran into an unfortunate sysadmin during this experience, and never really received the programming support I needed to take my work to its next level. So, while I made some very nice money proving my concepts, I could never mainstream it into the next big thing as I had planned. And this was still back circa 2001, right during the Bubble Burst, and before everyone woke up to the significance of search and the power of arbitrating other people’s traffic. But I was a prolific writer at Scala, relentlessly blogging on the topic of digital signage much to the chagrin of Scala’s competitors, such as WireSpring and WebPavement. I remained prolific until August 2004, when I joined Connors and NEEDED to write.

So at Connors, I focused on delivering my secret sauce to Connors clients-only! I got a touch of the paranoia that I humorously observed in my SEO counterparts while at Prophet 21 and Scala. And I started thinking whether I could ever really write again about the secret sauce. Webmaster World was the place to be to impress peers and feed one’s ego. But building influential personal blogs such as Battellemedia and Micropersuasion was the way to build audience and attract new prospective clients. But what could I write about? This was also a problem with speaking opportunities. I was such a back-room SEO-guy that all I had to say was stuff that gave away the family jewels—tidbits like the power of prev/next arrows!

Meanwhile, things are changing at an ultra-rapid pace. Ruby on Rails comes along, and the concept of an agile framework is on peoples’ radars. There goes the special edge of my “generalized system” (where apps spring into being virtually before the product spec is written). Next, Google buys Urchin and makes Web Analytics free. There goes the possibility of selling what I built as an analytics package. The world is catching up with me on all fronts but one: how to know WHAT keywords to optimize for the biggest return. And along comes Chris Anderson with his fateful 2004 online article about the long tail distribution curve and how it applies to search.

The SEM people (those who sell clicks) rapidly jumped on the bandwagon, and said “Hey, up the keywords! It doesn’t cost you any more, and it may help”. This is a good premise, but the nuance is that it works even better when you don’t pay a cent! That’s right! Writing about an obscure but promising topic and putting the content in optimized format on your website simultaneously optimizes for ALL search engines. You don’t have the overhead of another keyword in your campaigns to manage. You don’t have to pay if a click occurs. And it’s a permanent addition to your website, working for you 24×7.

Two metaphors come into play: the snowball effect, and the iceberg principle. I will probably write about both of these separately because they are such important topics. But the snowball effect states that if you keep adding just the right content to your site at a consistent rate, your site will increase in effectiveness as it grows in size and search-appeal. It’s “a-peelin’ off a layer of someone else’s search traffic.” At any given moment, there is a fixed amount of search traffic occurring on the planet, and we’re in a battle of capturing it before the next guy does.

Secondly, the iceberg principle states that if someone searched past that magical 3-page limit and STILL found your site on a given keyword (or keyword combo), then you MIGHT just be seeing the tip of the iceberg. If you could somehow tweak your page to the first page of results for that keyword in the search engine result pages (SERPS), then you might receive tons more traffic on that term. Some determined searcher actually volunteered competitive intelligence to you through their determination and dropped it in your lap to use or not. HitTail is about using it! It is a powerful tool in the hands of a prolific writer.

And now that Connors Communications went public with its secret sauce for SEO, and I’m free to talk about it—watch out! The prolific writer is back. And just as I spelled out the power of prev/next arrows with keywords, I’m going to be blowing the lid off of as many closely held techniques of SEO that I can, in order to level the playing field and create some opportunity for Connors. So, what opportunity is there once all the “process” secrets of SEO are disclosed? Simple! They’re not easy to implement—especially at large companies. The old 3 c’s of the Internet used to be content, community and commerce. The new 3 c’s of SEO are consensus, clarity and confidence. In other words, large companies to stand even a minute chance in this blogging world of ours need to build consensus between the marketing and IT departments. The projects that are going to be carried out need to be spelled out in crystal clear fashion (clarity), and everyone—especially the IT department, needs to be completely confident that it can be done without breaking everything or cost sultan’s ransom to overhaul infrastructure.

And I know the prolific writer is back, because I have to discipline myself to stop there. I really could go on forever.

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